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Downtown Eugene, Ore.

The energized city center sparkles on stage and on the plate.

pork tenderloin at Belly restaurant in Eugene, Ore.
Photo caption
Stick a fork in inventive pork at Belly restaurant in Eugene, Ore.

Think the University of Oregon's hometown is just for students, track stars, and Merry Pranksters? Then it's time you came for dinner. Or shopping, or a show. A delicious, artful energy is brewing in this Willamette Valley city of 149,000, particularly in its roughly 10-square-block downtown, just northwest of campus and close to riverside parks.

"Compared with five years ago, downtown is rockin'," says Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi Brewing, whose India pale ale called Total Domination is the toast of local pubs. You can dine downtown on thin-crust pizza from the wood-fired oven at La Perla, which opened in July, or on grilled skirt steak with truffle butter at Marché. Belly, another newcomer, serves up creative dishes like pork confit with seasonal fruit and polenta.

QUICK TIP In the mood for a little romance? The Eugene Ballet Company performs Swan Lake at the Hult Center for Valentine's Day weekend (Feb. 14 and 15). (541) 682-5000,

Music, dance, and theater shine at such downtown venues as the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, featuring Broadway shows, the Eugene Symphony, and the Eugene Ballet; the Shedd Institute, where jazz songbird Madeleine Peyroux appears March 25; the historic McDonald Theatre; and WOW Hall, a former gathering place for Woodmen of the World.

Shoppers can find cloud-soft cashmere throws at French Quarter Linens in the Fifth Street Public Market, a collection of boutiques and eateries in a revamped warehouse. Just up the street in a onetime farmers' co-op complete with a defunct grain elevator, Down to Earth offers home and garden supplies, including fragrant candles made with Oregon beeswax.

Art lovers will enjoy the Opus6ix gallery with its pieces by nationally known artists alongside local woodworker Tim Boyden's one-of-a-kind tables made from branches and stones. It's a frequent stop on the First Friday ArtWalk, a guided stroll through area galleries that sometimes includes such arty happenings as the Slug Queen Competition & Coronation.

This wacky, 26 -year-old pageant pokes fun at traditional beauty contests and pays homage to the gastropods that flourish in Eugene's moist climate. The 2008 winner, Her Majesty Marie Slugtoinette, will appear at a spring fashion show, a summer ball, and other events (see The town, it seems, is wild about slugs. Dinner, shopping, shows, and... slugs

Photography by Robbie McClaran

This article was first published in January 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.